Early Morning Studios are a developer with an unusual pedigree for mobile. Producing a number of dark and gritty fantasy games, their pursuit of a hardcore audience stands at odds with what many people in the industry think will sell. But maybe there’s something to learn from pursuing a different audience, and taking inspiration from a more unusual place for mobile.
Acquired two years ago by gaming group Thunderful, EMS found success with their earlier game Champions of Avan. We got the chance to put our questions to chief operating officer, Daniel Lagergren about Early Morning Studios and their latest game to release on mobile, Vendir: Plague of Lies, to find what inspired them, how they market their games and what difficulties they overcame on the mobile platform.
PocketGamer.biz: Where did you draw your inspiration from for Vendir?
Daniel Lagergren: For us, the old-school party-based games from 20 years ago still hold allure and many nostalgic memories. Games like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment and Icewind Dale still make our hearts soar, and we really wanted to create a game that we would have loved to play alongside those classics.
The tone and feel we let ourselves be inspired by the more recent gritty and darker fantasy worlds we’ve seen in games and television, we felt the marriage between tone and this style of gameplay would make for a unique and exciting gaming experience.
Our whole thing is to not follow mobile gaming trends, but instead to serve an audience that is tired of trends. If anything we’re hoping to set some new trends for mobile gaming!Daniel Lagergren
How did bringing old-school RPGs to the mobile platform work?
When we first launched Vampire’s Fall: Origins in 2018, it quickly became clear to us that there were a lot of players that craved the kinds of games we wanted to make, and that those players were not being served. We noticed that from the ratings, comments, and emails we received in the following months.
One of the biggest challenges though was monetization. As this was uncharted territory, we opted for asking our players for advice on how they thought we should monetize. We tried a few things like donations, non-intrusive ads and so on until we eventually settled where we are today. We don’t pester users for purchases, but we have monetized to the point where we can run a stable business and make more games.
Why do you think you’ve had such unique success on mobile?
It’s quite simple really.
It’s because we’ve made PC-ish games for mobile. We think of our users as competent and discerning gamers that aren’t looking for another hyper-casual game, but rather something deeper created with heart. Most companies underestimate how quickly players will see through a game. We expect them to be brutally honest if we steer away from our promise to redefine great mobile gaming.
What tips would you offer studios that want to emulate your success?
Look at the core of games you've enjoyed in the past, and try to imagine those from a player's experience where there are only touch controls - it makes for a very exciting nut to crack! Also, don’t limit yourself to looking at what's currently on the mobile market but keep an open mind as to what kind of games could work on a mobile device!
What do you think makes Vendir: Plague of Lies different to other games, and other titles in your catalogue?
It’s a game that pulls no punches when it comes to gameplay, story or art. It’s a love letter to roleplay enthusiasts, and we’ve poured a lot into making the game feel more like a contemporary of its inspirations than our previous games. To us Vendir stands out as a game that will feel right at home on Mobile as well as on PC or Consoles, there is no difference in how we approach the platforms from a gameplay standpoint.
You say you’re looking for a hardcore focus, isn’t this contrary to what many developers pursue on mobile?
It is, and we think it’s partly therefore that the market is hungry and ready for other types of gaming experiences on mobile. We believe that an ageing ‘old-school gamer’ audience who have access to mobile phones are craving experiences they now rarely have time for on PC or console. And the younger market we believe is more than ready to engage deeper with their games than most other games will offer them.
What do you think is the most important trend in mobile gaming right now?
To be frank, none. Our whole thing is to not follow mobile gaming trends, but instead to serve an audience that is tired of trends like hyper-casuals, auto-play, etc. If anything we’re hoping to set some new trends for mobile gaming!
Do you have any plans for 2023 you can share with us?
We’ve got quite a few projects in different stages of development. We aim to have a couple of them see the light of day within the next 12 months. But yeah, we’re entering an exciting new phase filled with great ideas and amazing people on the team. We're very eager to get more games into players’ pockets!